We’ve always been interested in town houses and are still thinking of dedicating a Japan Times column to them. Town houses were briefly popular in the late 70s and early 80s. Japan has always had an indigenous town house, called nagaya or machiya depending on which part of the country you’re in, but the structures called “town houses” in English (sometimes “terrace houses”) were more like their Western cognates: two-story structures with walls adjoining their neighbors. In urban environments town houses offer more effective utilization of land than normal detached houses while providing a similar level of creature comfort. However, once land prices skyrocketed in the mid-80s town houses were considered economically inefficient, even in the suburbs, which is where you normally found them anyway. Everybody started building condos with boxy floor plans in order to get as much cash out of a block of air as possible. Every so often we come across an old town house on sale and check it out, but because of their relative scarcity they tend to be overpriced. Of course, “overpriced” is all a matter of perception. Because town houses are relatively unusual, owners think that makes them more valuable, but they’re still old and always need a lot of work, as much as a detached house of the same vintage does if it hasn’t been renovated (and usually they haven’t been). A few weeks ago, as a matter of fact, we were amused to see a listing in which town houses were qualified as being “popular.” They aren’t, at least not in the general definition of the word. They are simply “rare,” which means it’s assumed some people will pay a bit more to have one. Read More
Two weeks ago we were at the UR office in Yaesu helping some friends get around the application process and asked the employee about availability. Though there was no ulterior motive behind the question, the woman volunteered that a lot of residents in UR high-rises in the waterfront area were moving out after the earthquake. We were slightly taken aback: Only a semi-public organization like UR would admit to potential renters that people were anxious to leave their properties.
Upon further investigation, we found that the story is a bit more complicated, at least when it comes to buying and selling property. According to various news reports, there has been a notable increase in interest in the Musashino daichi, or plateau, which covers parts of Western Tokyo and Western Saitama Prefecture. This is considered stable land, meaning no risk of liquefaction. The waterfront, of course, is all built on landfill, but there are many other areas located inland that suffered soggy ground after the Mar. 11 earthquake, such as Abiko in Chiba and Kuki in Eastern Saitama, communities that were built on ground that used to be swampland, rice paddies, or even ponds. Usually, you can determine the kind of land an area once was by consulting an old map. If the old name contains words that indicated water, like numa (marsh), then you might want to make sure your foundation is built on piles. In fact, a lot of developers change the names of such places so that people think they were built on solid rock (almost any subdivision with the word oka–hill–is a dead giveaway). Read More